Today Baltimore County participated in Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens' annual "Fallen Heroes Day," an occasion to honor Maryland's law enforcement officers, correctional officers and fire and EMS personnel who have given their lives in service to others.
Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson wishes to share the Memorial Address given by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz at today's event. "The County Executive's remarks captured the poignancy of this tragic year for Maryland law enforcement and made important points about the relationship between police and citizens."
Here is the text of the County Executive's remarks:
Good afternoon, everyone. I am honored to be here again this year on behalf of the people of Baltimore County to offer thanks to all the first responders – the recently lost and the long remembered – who have given their lives in service to others across this state. We feel the deepest gratitude to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens for giving us this opportunity.
I am certain that all of you, like me, share a sense that the past 12 months were especially painful in the public safety community. That is certainly true here in Maryland, where we lost in shocking and terrible ways the four police officers whose names today will be added to the Fallen Heroes Memorial; … and where three weeks ago today Prince George's County Firefighter-Paramedic John Ulmschneider died and another volunteer firefighter was wounded when they were shot on a routine medical call.
Whether public safety personnel are under deliberate attack is a point of debate. But there is no question that across the nation this feels like an unusually tumultuous and perilous time for our men and women in uniform. It seems as though a news cycle does not pass without some tragedy involving an officer, firefighter or EMS responder; as though every social media login summons images of badges banded in black.
The dangers are not merely physical. For law enforcement in particular, the atmosphere in many communities is fraught with uneasiness. Every day – on radio shows and newscasts, in conversations on street corners and around dinner tables – Americans are questioning the role of police in our society and challenging law enforcement in ways not seen since the Sixties. There must be room, of course, for constructive conversation on these matters, and a willingness to work toward understanding of our different points of view. Our public safety professionals and volunteers understand this.
But there is no question that everyone here who wears a badge – and the overwhelming majority of first responders everywhere – chose the calling out of a desire to serve and, in the case of law enforcement, with great respect for the powers given to them. So it is no wonder if they are disturbed when their motives and commitment are questioned and their decisions second-guessed.
It is no wonder if they feel embattled by criticism and controversy and an atmosphere of distrust, and by media coverage that often conflates wrongdoing by the few with an indictment of an entire profession.
It is no wonder that the current angry, conflict-ridden climate breeds discouragement, cynicism and the idea that the work of public safety is grossly undervalued and the sacrifice of the brave forgotten.
But is this really true? Is the sacrifice forgotten? Or, is it possible that loud headlines and louder voices simply have made the heartfelt appreciations of ordinary people harder to hear?
After the murder of the two Harford sheriff’s deputies, a photo circulated of one of the agency’s patrol cars smothered in flowers, balloons, American flags and messages of love and appreciation. No doubt you have seen this picture; the windshield, the hood, the roof, the pavement on all four sides of the vehicle are covered in tributes. The day of the funeral, people stood on overpasses and along roadsides to pay their respects. Some, no doubt, took time off from work to do so. Supportive messages appeared on billboards and placards on churches, schools, restaurants and shops. The outpouring of sympathy from across the state and across the nation simply staggered. Perhaps the expressions of grief were especially overwhelming in this case because two officers died simultaneously, but in fact for every line of duty death we see the roadside salutes, the flags, the Facebook condolences, acknowledgement that a hero has passed.
These expressions come not merely from the public safety community. They come from ordinary people who understand what sacrifice means … who know that all the bouquets and balloons in the world are insufficient to thank those willing to run toward danger, confront the heart of darkness and die for a safer, better world.
This is a mournful day. Our hearts ache especially for the families and friends of the newly fallen, whose pride today mingles with pain.
But there is solace, too.
There is comfort in the knowledge that the extraordinary deeds of extraordinary people are valued and will be remembered – not just by loved ones but by people they never even knew.
There is comfort in seeing that in a divided world unity is possible still.
There in comfort in this, a message handwritten in blue marker on a poster board, meant for the two Harford deputies but meaningful for all we remember today:
“In honored memory of the fallen. May their spirit endure. With love and gratitude to those who keep the watch.”